POLICE chiefs have signalled they are to call a halt to controversial random stop-and-searches.
The move, which follows a conversation between First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Chief Constable Sir Stephen House, comes after revelations that hundreds of under-12s were searched by police in the past year – despite one of Scotland’s top officers pledging the practice would be ended.
Ms Sturgeon told MSPs at First Minister’s Questions: “Stop-and-search can be a vital tool in combating crime and in protecting the public, but there has been legitimate public concern about the practice of non-statutory searches which involve people being stopped in the street and searched after giving their verbal consent.”
Later, Rose Fitzpatrick, Deputy Chief Constable Local Policing, said alternative measures would be considered to replace the current tactic of “consensual” stop-and-search.
She added: “Where it is targeted, intelligence-led and used in the right place at the right time, stop-and-search is an effective and legal tactic that helps us tackle the priorities communities set for us.”
Figures for the first year of Police Scotland’s existence showed that in Edinburgh there had been a 40 per cent hike in stop-and-search activity compared with the previous year, with officers frisking nearly 30,000 suspects – around 82 cases a day. About a fifth of these produced hidden drugs, weapons, stolen property, alcohol or other items.
But latest statistics show a fall in the overall number of stop-and-searches in the Capital, down from 23,660 to 19,142 between April and September last year compared with the same period in 2013, although there was an increase in items seized, including legal highs, weapons and fireworks.
It emerged earlier this week that so-called consensual searches on children under the age of 12 are still taking place, despite Assistant Chief Constable Wayne Mawson telling a Holyrood committee in June that the practice is “indefensible” and would be scrapped.
Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson raised the issue at First Minister’s Questions. She said: “For our youngest children, 159 were stopped in Scotland aged nine and under. In London, with millions more people and higher crime, that number was just 19. Primary school children as young as five being approached by uniformed officers asking to search them, and them not knowing if they are allowed to say no.”
She added: “How can a senior ranking officer come to Holyrood and tell parliament that officers are regularly doing something that even the police consider indefensible and then walk out the front door and carry on regardless.”
The First Minister said the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) had asked for an explanation from Police Scotland as to why children were being searched, and said it would be discussed at its next board meeting.